A bite of Croatian life
17 September 2019
Croatia, a growing tourist destination in Europe, has rich history, pristine beaches, and stunning waterfalls. However, many people don’t know that Croatia also offers a wide array of delicious food, and wine. Europe Expert, Rachael who recently traveled to Croatia, talks about her top culinary picks from this extraordinary trip!
I didn’t plan to have a foodie experience in Croatia, but honestly, it happened anyway. Meal after meal, I was confronted with deliciously creative and carefully prepared dishes, until almost all my photos were of food. The geographic influences on Croatia’s culinary scene are apparent, with pasta in the north, seafood risotto on the coast, and stews and potato-based dishes inland. Here are just a few of my favorites!
The Istrian peninsula has an abundance of black and white truffles. They are less expensive than their Italian neighbors and I found every plate I ordered – and there were many – had more aromatic shavings than the last. The closer you are to Istria, the fresher the truffles, in fact, you can even go truffle hunting with a professional and find your own! Make the most of your time in this beautiful region by visiting picturesque hilltop towns and ordering everything truffle.
Black risotto and black pasta look very alien, but these oddly colored dishes are a traditional specialty in the Dalmatian Coast region. It is dyed using squid ink, and pairs perfectly with other seafood, such as cuttlefish or calamari. A telltale sign that someone has been enjoying this customary food is a black tongue, so make sure you follow my lead and wash it down with a lovely glass of Croatian wine.
Under the Bell
“Peka” is a traditionally Balkan dish. It is a perfect combination of meat and fresh vegetables, drizzled all over with olive oil, and topped with aromatic herbs. Then, it is cooked under a bell-shaped dome – preferably in coals or a fireplace. It’s best to give notice for this dish, as it does take a few hours too cook. The waiting time is worth it because the meat is tender, the vegetables cooked to perfection, and the herb-infused olive oil makes an excellent sauce. I enjoyed peka while sitting on a flower-filled terrace in an abandoned village on the island of Hvar, it was one of those special experiences that you can only get in Croatia.
Okay, I am an animal lover, so I feel a little bad about this, but there’s certainly proof here that free-range farming is the way to go if you want the most delectable products. Pag cheese is a hard sheep’s cheese that is made flavorful thanks to the wild herbs the sheep eat on the island Brac. On Brac, free-range sheep roam around, without fences, enjoying all the island has to offer. I won’t say anything more than their natural diet and freedom to roam the rocky hills works wonders for their flavors. I enjoyed the best lamb, of my long lamb-eating career, at the traditional Konoba Toni on Brac. Cooked over a spit, covered in chunky salt, and served with crispy roasted potatoes, this seemingly simple meal still haunts my culinary dreams.
Croatian wine needs its own blog post, and I recommend trying as many different varietals as you can. It is a poetic and passionate experience for the local wine-makers. While sitting in a cave-like cellar at a winery on Hvar, I tried olive oils infused with different herbs from local gardens, strong sheep cheese, sweet fig jam, and of course, beautiful wine with the unique, mineralized flavors I had come to love. The vintner told me stories about the history of the island and all the wonderful food Croatia has to offer. “It’s like a bite of life,” he said to me, “you have the sharp cheese, the spicy olive oil, and the sweet jam. All the different flavors come together to make a perfect meal. Just like life,” he said, sipping his wine, “just like life.”